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PHC4 Releases New Report on Opioid Overdose Hospitalization Trends

Harrisburg, PA – October 6, 2022 – PHC4 released today a new research brief about trends in hospitalizations for opioid overdose in Pennsylvania. The report looks at the six-year period from 2016 through 2021 and includes details about differences in overdose hospitalizations for pain medication and heroin. It also highlights differences in trends across race/ethnicity and poverty level.

Over these six years, hospitalizations for opioid overdose decreased 27%, from a total of 3,342 in calendar year (CY) 2016 to 2,429 in CY 2021. In comparing hospitalizations for overdose of heroin versus pain medication, hospital stays for heroin overdose decreased 53% from 1,555 in 2016 to 724 in 2021, whereas stays for pain medication overdose showed less change, with only a 5% decrease from 1,787 in 2016 to 1,705 in 2021. About half (47%) of all opioid overdose hospitalizations in 2016 were for heroin overdose, while in 2021 that fraction decreased to about a third (30%).

“The findings in this new report shed light on the status of Pennsylvania’s opioid epidemic over several years and emphasize the decrease in hospitalizations for opioid overdose since 2016,” said Barry Buckingham, PHC4’s Executive Director. “While these results show decreases in the inpatient treatment of opioid overdoses in Pennsylvania, care provided in other settings such as emergency departments or by first responders may show different patterns,” added Buckingham. The report shows the largest decrease was between 2017 and 2018, when there was a 24% decrease in cases from 3,500 to 2,667. Since 2018, the number of cases showed minimal variation, although there was a small increase (about 7%) from 2019 to 2020 (from 2,468 to 2,633 annual hospitalizations), coinciding with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, the number of hospitalizations fell to its lowest at 2,429.

The brief also examines differences in trends by race/ethnicity. The findings showed hospitalization rates for opioid overdose decreased between 2016 and 2021 for white, non-Hispanic residents but increased over time for both black, non-Hispanic residents and Hispanic residents. Rates also increased over time for residents living in high poverty areas (poverty rate over 25%), while rates decreased for residents living in lower poverty areas.

Trends in county-level population-based rates are also included in the brief.

In 2021 alone, patients hospitalized for opioid overdose spent a total of 11,750 days in the hospital, with an average stay of 4.8 days. About 6% of patients died while in the hospital. Approximately 18% of all opioid overdose hospitalizations in 2021 were for fentanyl overdose. Of all opioid overdose hospitalizations that ended in death, 34% were for fentanyl overdose.

The report also highlights differences among various sociodemographic groups in 2021. The following categories of Pennsylvania residents had opioid overdose hospitalizations rates that were significantly higher than the rest of the state in 2021:

  • Residents age 25-44 and 45-64 years
  • Male residents
  • Black, non-Hispanic and Hispanic residents
  • Residents living in areas that had higher rates of poverty (patients living in zip codes with poverty rates of 10% or higher).

Findings from today’s release are available on PHC4’s website at

You can also link to this information through social media on Facebook and Twitter.

PHC4 is an independent state agency charged with collecting, analyzing and reporting information that can be used to improve the quality and restrain the cost of health care in Pennsylvania.

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Phone: (717) 232-6787
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